I described in an earlier post that I liked to read fantasy novels as a way of relaxing during the holidays, and that “The Name of the Wind”, by Patrick Rothfuss, contained a prologue which is one of the most beautiful and poignant pieces of prose I had ever read in my life. He titles his prologue ” A Silence of Three Parts”. He begins his description:
The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves.The Name of the Wind. Patrick Rothfuss
He has also written a beautiful, poignant book about one of the characters we meet in “The Name of the Wind”, called “The Slow Regard of Silent Things”.
Silence is an issue. Ignatius also writes in the power of three in the Spiritual Exercises: the first, second and third sin; the three powers of the soul, three classes of men; three kinds of humility; three times of making a choice; three methods of prayer, three principle reasons why we suffer from desolation. And in a previous post I wrote about speaking out, the opposite of silence. Hence the convergence of these three ideas here. Further, I would describe three aspects to the three kinds of silence, a sort of fractal pattern.
The first kind of silence I would describe as a literal, physical silence, something of which Rothfuss is describing above. There is a noticeable lack of it in our fast paced world. It may present as the absence of ambient noise that we selectively do not hear, it may be in holding our tongue in non verbal disapproval, or maybe even shock, at the behaviour, actions or speech of another, or it may be keeping quiet to allow another, or others, to speak in conversation or in a group setting. One thing I have noticed more and more since becoming a spiritual director is that when we are in conversation with each other, we often only listen for the pause in the conversation so that we know when we can voice our own opinion; we are not really listening to what the other person is saying. I see this a lot in the classroom: a child puts their hand up to ask a question mid explanation, and I finish my explanation before they are given the opportunity to speak, only to find that I have just explained the answer to their question in the intervening period. So intent were they in listening for the pause, that they missed the answer to the question they had put their hand up to ask. Or, during meetings sometimes, someone is speaking and making a point, and someone else, or more than one someone else, starts talking over them and the chair frequently has to step in: and of course, not just meetings, in any group conversation I notice this happening. I notice myself doing it too, and when I do, I apologise for interrupting and I attempt to correct my behaviour. So here, I want to issue you with a challenge: sit back a bit this week and listen. Where do you see this lack of silence and listening in your day to day life?
The second kind of silence I would describe is the silence of abuse. Firstly , the silence of the victim, who feels unable to speak out. Secondly, the silence of those who know about the abuse, but are unable to stop it and do not speak out. And thirdly, the silence of those who both know about the abuse and are in a position to make it stop, but do not take the necessary action to terminate it.
I wrote in a previous post about Ignatius’ description of how the enemy acts as a false lover, by whispering secrets and encouraging us not to tell, whether it is grooming or gas-lighting. He encourages us to speak out, to act against the compulsion to silence. I would like to illustrate with a story:
Tara has been gas-lighted and abused by her family all of her life, and we see her at the beginning of the scene with no sense of her own self worth. She has lied, deceived and put her friends in danger, and they have just found out. Notice the movement in her from the beginning to the end of the scene, with each intervention. Willow firstly speaks forgiveness and understanding, and she is coming from a place of love; Buffy steps in with strength and protection and the others collectively draw out the truth of the abuse. Notice how her family respond to these interventions: with the continued lies and fallacious reasoning, anger and emotional blackmail. Until finally, Tara finds courage and strength to stand, to face down her abusers and to see herself as worthy of love and life. To me, this scene is excellent in its depiction of turmoil of spirits, and Tara’s responses show movements of desolation and consolation throughout the scene. From the position of protection, coming from a place of love, understanding and truth, light is shone on the abuse and it is brought to an end, and recovery is given the opportunity to begin.
There is no room for silence where abuse is concerned, and those who have been abused need those who know about it to listen and to act, so that they can speak out and we can collectively make it stop.
The third kind is the silence of prayer. In maintaining a silence during a retreat for example, or setting time aside at home in order to enter into that space where we can connect with God. This also includes a silence from all sorts of input via books, television, social media. It is cutting ourselves off from distractions, the urgency of the clamour that demands our attention. By silencing the cacophony of the world, we are creating a sacred space where we can enter into the depths of and with God. Imagine the feeling of walking along a beach alone, where hours pass and it feels like seconds, and now imagine that sense lasting and deepening over a period of days. It is also our silence and stillness when we place ourselves before Him to listen.
And it is also, sometimes, the silence when we hear nothing back from Him, as in the film “Silence”.
Such times, when we feel an absence of God’s presence, and we are consistently bombarded by the actions of the evil spirit manifested in others and in our own thoughts, it can be extremely painful and confusing. Ignatius has some useful advice to help us at such times:
…it will be very advantageous to intensify our activity against desolation. We can insist more on prayer, upon meditation, and on much examination of ourselves. We can make an effort in a suitable way to do some penance,The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. trans Loius J. Puhl S.J.
As I stated earlier, Ignatius offers three principle reasons why we suffer from desolation:
The first is because we have been tepid and slothful or negligent in our exercises of piety…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. trans Loius J. Puhl S.J.
The second is because God wishes to try us to see how much we are worth, and how much we will advance in His service and praise when left without the generous reward of consolations and signal favors.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. trans Loius J. Puhl S.J.
The third reason is because God wishes to give us a true knowledge and understanding of ourselves, so that we may have an intimate perception of the fact that it is not within our power to acquire and attain great devotion…or any other spiritual consolation; but that all this is the gift and grace of God our Lord.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. trans Loius J. Puhl S.J.
So Ignatius encourages us, that while God does not cause desolation, He allows it for our ultimate benefit and uses it to draw us still closer and more deeply into Him. Ignatius advises us, that when we are in a time of consolation, we consider how we will conduct ourselves in a time of desolation and that we store up a supply of strength as defense against that day. In practice, this may mean that when we are in desolation we call to mind, during prayer or during our day to day activities, memories of past experiences of consolation and savour them.
I would like to invite you this week to notice silence in your life. Where is it coming from? Where is it leading to? What are your own inner movements in the silence, and as you notice the silence?
I will end with this cover, and video, of a classic song because the first time I saw it, I was moved and haunted by it, and I pondered it for quite a while afterwards.